The Spirit of Shabbat and My Car Alarm

In the community I was involved with in St. Louis in my pre-marriage days, a particular family hosted about 25 people each week for Shabbat dinner and I had the privilege to be their guest several times. It seemed to me that this family represented the epitome of the baal teshuvah experience: beautiful home filled with yiddishkeit everywhere, wonderful food that seemed without end, fascinating dvars, lively conversation. Both husband and wife came from very different backgrounds; she attended Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government while the husband lived a fun life in Brazil. Their adorable daughter symbolized the bright future that lay ahead for them, and quite possibly for all of klal Yisrael, so giving was their spirit and energy.

Almost every time I sat at their table, there would inevitably come a time when I would choke up and feel the tears gather in my eyes. A word, a song, a bracha – something would a trigger an emotional response, a deep longing, a feeling that this, this moment whatever it was – is what I want around my Shabbat table one day. The ease of the rituals and the deep knowledge of the parsha and the singing seemed so authentic to me, and just made me feel like I still had so far to go. The moment would sear itself into my mind and amidst the joyful talk with the 25 guests, I felt alone and lonely. I visualized my future family and wondered if I would ever have this.

And then a car alarm went off. A car alarm – outside the rabbi’s house! During Shabbat dinner! Shattering my deep thoughts – breaking the moment – and the sudden realization that it was MY car alarm waking up the neighborhood! I ran to my purse and fumbled for the keys, so embarrassed. Why oh why would my car alarm go off and ruin this amazing Shabbat spirit? The wonderful hosts, the understanding guests – everyone laughed it off and forgot about it.

I went back to the guests, back to the meal, joining in the conversation. “Getting there” doesn’t just happen overnight – it takes work and study and commitment! I’ve succeeded at everything else in the world, so why shouldn’t I succeed in this most-important challenge and holiest of goals? Besides, I’m a decent cook, at least I have a head start in that regard.

Then my car alarm went off again.

I’ve still got a long road ahead of me.

4 comments on “The Spirit of Shabbat and My Car Alarm

  1. That reminded me of a story. Many moons ago, I went to a tish in Meah Sha’arim. I believe it was at Slonim.

    That particular tish has a very subdued atmosphere set by the chasidim who arrive before the Rebbe in a very dimly lit room. They begin singing very mellow niggunim. Between the dim lights and the nearly hypnotic singing, some of us were beginnig to get sleepy. Boom, the lights go on, full brightness!! One of our group members had leaned on the light switches. I’m betting someone went out after Shabbos and bought some of those switch protectors.

  2. Mark: I like the message that you came up with.

    Sarah: Interesting story. My husband, this morning, after reading the story, asked me why I didn’t just let it keep going. I answered that I didn’t want to annoy the entire Torah-observant neighborhood (and everyone else), since I know how annoying a car alarm can be!
    The oven alarm only affected the people inside the house (and how did they sleep?), but I was worried about the neighborhood. Maybe others can answer the question: what would you do on Shabbat (or Yom Tov)? Would you let it go, or would you turn it off?

  3. This reminds me of an experience from my very early days. I was at a seudah by one of my “role models”,(actually they still are all these years later) and their oven alarm went off. There was a large table of varied guests and the oven noise was VERY loud. I just couldn’t believe nobody was shutting it off. I also couldn’t believe that the distracting and intrusive sound was being ignored. They continued on through a very lovely seudah, talking above it, singing, etc. It was a lifelong lesson for me in “commitment to higher pursuits” and how we don’t have to cave in to everything over convenience or being uncomfortable. It was also a lesson in overcoming obstables and distraction as Mark said. That impression remains 20 years later.

  4. How about this for message:

    We all know that spiritual pursuits like Shabbos are really what count and makes us happy. But the distractions of the world are often shouting in our face like a car alarm. And behind that car alarm is another and another.

    But if we keep focused on pursuing the spiritual, eventually the car alarms fade and become less and less of a distraction. If we listen closely they’re still there, but they are no longer the obstacles to spirituality that they once were.

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